Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sydney, too, considering "chop and change" bus service pattern?

File:Parramatta Road near University of Sydney.jpg
Parramatta Road, Sydney - Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald announced that the city's master transport plan is looking at a new route structure that will see many passengers having to transfer to make city-to-suburb journeys. 

It is a chop and change system that appears similar to that now clearly being implemented in Christchurch, despite great public concern (not that you'd know it from the city newspapers).   

In Sydney's case the long term proposal is to serve central city areas with high frequency buses linking at CBD boundary area interchanges to suburban routes. Part of the Sydney problem is there are 1500 buses a morning trying to thread through congested city streets (and of course adding to congestion themselves).

To quote the Herald report;

"This is how the master plan puts it: "The current radial one-seat bus service network, which attempts to provide single-service bus transport from many origins to many destinations, has little capacity for growth and is not adequate to the task of meeting complex 21st century travel patterns."

The Herald report goes on to describe the proposed new system ; 

Fewer bus routes would take people all the way from their home to their final destination.  The frequency of buses on major cross-city routes will increase. But "this will be enabled in part by consolidating some existing low frequency bus routes onto major corridors, and by reallocating resources to provide higher frequency on trunk corridors and their rearranged intersecting feeder routes", the plan says. "The need for interchange may be increased, but the inconvenience of interchange is reduced due to higher service frequencies."

Of course the devil will be in the detail including the route pattern and schedules and - most of all - actual frequencies.

Of special note in report above is that sentence "The frequency of buses on major cross-city routes will be increased"  This is contrast to Christchurch where it appears the concept is primarily being applied to cut costs.

In every Metro proposal sighted to date there has been either no increase in frequency or there has been reduced frequency (including reduced frequency on shared route corridors). Reduce services and making many people transfer even for short journeys such as city to Milton Street on Route 11 (tranfer at Sydenham Park !!) seems more like a recipe for discouraging patronage than a brave new world.

Under this new Christchurch system  many outer suburbs will be reliant upon 15 minute services (at maximum) linking to 30 or 60 minute headway services - these  either requiring a long wait (add 8-15 minutes to a current 30 minute journey) at the transfer point or, if timed too close to the service to which transferring, risk of completely missing the connection and passengers left stranded for between 29 and 59 minutes.

It also goes without saying that routes travel in both directions, so that with such infrequent services, transfers typically can only favour one direction of movement at the expense of the other direction. The question of adequate transfer stations it now seems may be addressed by the region Government transport funding announcement.

However the history of inter-connectedness and integrated schedules in Christchurch is a bleak one historically. As soon as we get past the fine words the wheels typically fall off.

Even just in my last week's travel I can think of  waiting Saturday night at the Sydenham Park stop (going in the opposite direction) amazed to three different city south services pass through Sydenham - all three so close they were within sight of each other, even though they were each only running on hourly schedules  - absurdly throwing away higher frequency potential to the L3 zone around Sydenham and Beckenham and Spreydon areas**.

And catching on a bus after work from New Brighton to Lyttelton - fastest journey time for someone finishing work at 6pm is just under one and a half hour -  to make a journey that can be done by car in about 10 minutes! This includes a twenty minute wait time before departure and then the choice of the two simultaneous services (!) to Eastgate (40 and 5) , but both too late to connect to the 535 direct to Lyttelton service, so taking Orbiter to Opawa Road, a short walk and then another 10 minute plus wait, before the 28 Lyttelton bus comes through, arrival time 7.25pm. This may seem pedantic - we are a small system, can't please everyone etc but to me it is just poor resource use. It is symbolic of how poorly connected systems designed by car users are to bus user reality.

Much of this particular failure can be linked to the post earthquake policy of cutting back service frequency at 6pm, even though at that time of night there are dozens of services running in from outer terminii "Not on Service" to their depots and there are still plenty of people heading home from work (working late or afterwork drinks etc).

Cutting back services so early (when there are still plenty of buses available) rather than utilising these return buses as "additional services" is hardly supporting the employment zones outside the city centre, part of the supposed strategy behind the proposed route changes. It is for reasons like this, regular bus users get a bit cynical about "integrated services" or "increased frequency" and other fine phrases so often bounced around public authority boardrooms as if saying it makes it so.

New South Wales Transit might even pay to closely watch Christchurch, for lessons to be learnt from application of chop and change in practise. The Sydney Morning Herald notes;

"Yesterday's plan puts the creation of new bus routes and interchanges some years away. Yet it also outlines the philosophy that would be adopted if a government was ever brave enough to redesign the city's bus network. In short, the philosophy recognises a simple trade-off: to have more frequent bus services, bus commuters would also need to get out and change more often".


Nonetheless, whether in Sydney or Christchurch no service will be a quality service if it is not set to meet high quality service criteria in the exact workings and interaction between all services. 


**Checking Saturday timetables to south Christchurch I found this; 

These buses depart the Central Bus Station for the Sydenham area/Christchurch south each hour on Saturday evening at the following minutes past the hour;
Route 8 - 08; Route14 -09; Route 12 -11; Route 11 - 21; Route 15 - 31.
...If you are only going to Sydenham shops or Brougham Street you could possibly catch the half hourly service to Lyttelton, leaving Central Bus station at (guess!) 10 and 40 past hour. 

Routes 8 and 11 both also serve Milton St - Barrington Mall - Frankleigh Street  (with a 47 minute gap with no access)

Routes 12 and 14 both serve lower Cashmere and hills over-lapping at different points, or adjacent enough to offer a "better than wait an hour" alternative for large areas of both routes  (with a 58 minute gap with no  bus access) 

No services at all south of Brougham Street for 37 minutes in every hour

Seven buses per hour and yet there is still a 28 minute gap between the Lyttelton bus (part way) and the No 8,  even just to the Sydenham shops/cafes area. 

Brought to you by the same people that say they can organise a far more complex chop and change system!! 



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